In an industry where many system builders are content to recycle common PC designs, AJP has forged ahead in creating obscure concept PCs that bear little resemblance to those of its competitors. The Neo64 is an all-in-one device that bears a similarity to the Apple iMac, but it's much more than just a cheap imitation. Not only is it a semi-portable PC, but it's also a dedicated instant-on television and DVD player, which makes it a very likely candidate for style-conscious multimedia enthusiasts. It's available only from AJP's site for £1,350.
The Neo 64 is an eye-catching PC -- but whether you like it will depend on your individual tastes. It resembles a chunky stand-mounted tablet PC, but its bulk can be forgiven as its rear quarters contain the main PC components, such as the motherboard, CPU and memory.
The entire unit sits on a sturdy rectangular base which hosts a set of control buttons that are clearly labelled 'DVD', 'TV' and 'PC'. These serve as a logical means of switching between the machine's modes of operation.
There's a fold-away handle at the top of the screen, which makes it fairly easy to transport the unit between rooms, but as one of our astute colleagues pointed out, this makes the 9.6kg Neo 64 look like a high-tech suitcase.
The Neo 64 has a fairly elaborate speaker system given its size. There's a pair of stereo speakers on either side of the 17-inch screen, and a small tube enclosure at the rear that's designed to achieve lower frequency sounds.
To the right of the screen you'll find a tray-loading DVD rewriter drive, and below this, a 4-in-1 memory card reader, four-pin FireWire port, and a set of audio sockets that are ideally positioned for connecting a pair of headphones. The PC has four USB ports at the rear and one to the right side of the base, but we'd prefer to see a few front-facing ports, as these would have been more easily accessible.
Also at the rear are S-Video, RF, component and composite AV ports, all of which are ideal for connecting to an external device such as a Sky or Freeview set-top box, and there's a 10/100 Ethernet port, and a 56k modem for networking purposes.
Finally, the PC comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse, and usefully, the receiver for both peripherals is embedded in the PC itself, so there's no external dongle taking up space on your desktop.
The Neo64 is founded on a strong specification that incorporates a mixture of laptop and desktop components. Our basic review model has a laptop motherboard, an AMD Athlon 64 3700+ desktop CPU and 1GB of DDR400 memory.
The motherboard's K8N800 mobile chipset offers a good blend of features and performance, but its power-management features, which are normally used to extend laptop battery life, are largely redundant here. To its credit, these features can reduce the speed at which the Neo64's internal cooling fans rotate, and in our experience, this contributed to its relatively quiet operation.
One potential drawback of the K8N800 chipset is its integrated graphics adaptor. The S3 Graphics UniChrome Pro IGP is perfectly adequate for displaying DVD, TV and even high-definition movies, but it's useless for running games. There's also no possibility of upgrading with a more capable adaptor because of the PC's laptop heritage and limited internal space.
The Neo64 can display analogue terrestrial television either through software in Windows XP, or independently in the dedicated TV mode. You can record TV programmes to the accompanying 300GB hard drive, which is large enough to store around 100 hours of high-quality video, but the recording facilities are not available in the standalone TV mode.
Bizarrely, the Neo64's PC functions can be controlled via the keyboard and mouse while the system is running in other modes. This may lead to a loss of data if you accidentally press the wrong sequence of keys, but conversely the simultaneous accessing of TV and PC modes means you can let the Neo64 get on with mundane PC tasks such as rebooting, or file backups, while you watch television. There's also a picture-in-picture mode that lets you watch TV while viewing the Windows desktop, or to watch a DVD and a TV broadcast simultaneously. Why? We're not sure.
The Neo64 does the basics very well. Like most modern PCs, it zips its way through office productivity or Internet content creation tasks with little fuss. In this respect, the Athlon 3700+ CPU and 1GB of DDR400 memory make a fine pair.
The S3 Graphics UniChrome Pro IGP integrated graphics processor provided by the Via chipset is a major letdown. It is billed by S3 as a competent solution, but in reality it struggles badly with anything even remotely three-dimensional and failed to run any of our graphics benchmarks. If you're looking for a gaming PC -- even a very basic one -- we recommend you look elsewhere.
The Neo64's 17-inch screen will serve most people well. It operates at a WXGA resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, so it'll happily run widescreen movies, and even 720p high-definition video. However, discerning users should note that this screen doesn't perform as well as some dedicated TFTs.
The brightness of the panel seems unusually harsh, and images had a slightly unnatural look about them. The average user won't give this a second thought, but it's important to note the Neo64 isn't intended for graphic designers or anyone doing serious image work.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide